Virginia's ban on gay marriage was struck down by a federal judge late Thursday night. But the judge placed her own ruling on hold pending an appeal.
U.S. District Court Judge Arenda Wright Allen ruled that the commonwealth's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage violated the 14th Amendment's rights to equal protection and due process, Reuters reports.
As another state marriage ban falls to a federal court ruling, how does this new case add to the background of gay marriage law?
Virginia Is for All Lovers, State Atty. Gen. Says
Judge Allen's ruling is being hailed as a triumph for gay marriage supporters. Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, who made waves in late January by refusing to defend the gay marriage ban in court and filing an opposition brief against the law's enforcement, called Thursday's decision "the latest step in a journey towards equality for all Virginians."
While attorneys general are charged with defending the laws of their state and nation, they also owe a duty to the U.S. Constitution, which Judge Allen ruled was violated by Virginia's gay marriage ban.
As you may recall, Virginia was also home to one of the most important cases regarding the fundamental right to marry -- Loving v. Virginia. Decided in 1967 by the U.S. Supreme Court, Loving struck down laws which prevented people of different races from marrying.
State Legislatures v. Court Decisions
Currently, 17 states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex couples to be legally married. Many of those states began with voter-approved marriage bans like Virginia's that were struck down by a federal or state court.
California, for example, had its state Supreme Court rule that gay marriage was legal in 2008, only to have voters amend the California Constitution by initiative months later. That initiative was eventually invalidated by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013.
Still other states have affirmed gay marriage by passing new marriage laws in their state legislatures. New York approved gay marriage in 2011 with its Marriage Equality Act; Washington state passed its gay marriage bill by popular vote in 2012, and now one in six marriages there are same-sex.
Virginia's gay marriage ban has been stayed until the case can be heard by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Virginia now joins Oklahoma and Utah in waiting on a federal appeal to decide its marriage law's fate.